Exploration games can be a mixed bag. Dubbed “walking simulators” by some, since they feature minimal gameplay, the games really need something to make them stand out and engage players. Journey did it with beautiful graphics and a charming trek towards a mountain that can be all the more meaningful if you meet someone along the way. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter did it with a different gameplay mechanic in being able to piece together past events to unravel its mystery. Now Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture from developers The Chinese Room joins the growing list of these type of games. But with its minimalist gameplay, does it have enough to engage players and make it worth their time?
The answer to that is a resounding, “Yes!” Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture sucks you in with its mystery about the disappearance of everyone from a quaint village in the English countryside. Over the course of 4-6 hours you explore the town and uncover clues by listening to radio broadcasts, telephone conversations, and witnessing past interactions by the spectral images left behind by the townspeople. It’s by turns haunting and enthralling, filling you with a sense of dread in one section and then filling you with a sense of wonder in another. This is a game that’s hard to review, as you can’t discuss the plot without revealing all kinds of spoilers. And this is a story that is best uncovered on your own, as it just has more impact as you uncover each new piece of information. You’ll follow the stories of six main characters, and their personal tales are just as engaging as the overall mystery. Some may take issue with the game’s conclusion, as much is left to personal interpretation, but for myself I feel that is one of the game’s strengths in that it allows you to draw your own conclusions. Certainly what happened in this town could be the subject of some lively debate, and I do hope that happens as people play and finish the game. And this is a game that you’ll want to finish in one sitting.
The gameplay is simple enough, with the left stick controlling movement and the right stick controlling the camera. Holding R2 will build you up to a sprint, and pressing X allows you to interact with doors, phones, and radios. As you encounter small globes of light around the village you’ll have to tilt the PS4’s Dualshock controller, “tuning” in the light as you would a radio signal. When the screen goes white and then clears you’ll be able to witness the ghostly echoes of the townspeople and what they did and said in their final moments. There is no hub or map, but the game does provide clues, both visual and aural, to let you know where to go next. It doesn’t hold your hand, but it doesn’t leave you completely lost either. It would have been nice to be able to interact with more things, but doing so may have detracted from the story. The stories relayed in the game are all well written and interesting, and buoyed by some truly wonderful voice acting. The game is stunning to look at, with nicely detailed buildings and environment complete with swaying grasses and colorful flowers, a well done day/night cycle, and a night sky that you can just spend minutes staring at as you soak up its beauty. Providing the perfect backdrop is some excellent music that features both voice choirs and lush instrumental work. The voice choirs especially add an ethereal air to the game, imbuing the mystery with a sense of reverential wonder. The music also conveys the mood of the game as well, moving from creating a sense of dread and unease as you explore houses to a sense of enchantment as you follow shimmering paths of tiny balls of light that resemble magical fireflies. This is definitely one of the games that could arguably qualify as a work of art. It is one of the best looking games to be released this year on the PS4, and also has one of the best stories. It’s a game that demands your attention, and one that should receive it.
Despite all this glowing praise, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture does have its faults. The control for the sprint function isn’t mentioned in game; The Chinese Room released a blog about the function as it made it into the game too late to be listed in the settings menu under controls. Things do on occasion get confusing as which way to go or what to do next, and may end up making you backtrack unnecessarily to try and find something you may have missed. Replayability will be a personal preference, since there aren’t alternate endings, though the game does has 19 trophies for completionists to collect, and it’s unlikely you’ll get them all in one playthrough. The story certainly is engaging enough to experience more than once, and it’s quite possible that repeated playthroughs will offer more insight into the game’s ambiguous ending. For some that ending will be a disappointment as it leaves itself open to interpretation. Others will absolutely love that aspect of the game.
Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is not a game for everyone. There is no combat, no jump scares, no action filled cinematic cut scenes. What is does have are emotionally engaging personal stories and an interesting overall mystery. The gameplay is minimal, but the story is thoughtful and thought provoking, relayed through stellar voice acting and music. It is definitely closer to an interactive experience than being your standard game, but that doesn’t make it any less worth your time. This is a game everyone should try to experience at some point. Those who enjoyed games like The Vanishing of Ethan Carter or Gone Home may love this. Those who just like shooting things may want to stay away. For those who are willing to take the chance you’ll be rewarded with one of this year’s best titles. It’s beautiful to both look at and listen to, has terrific characters brought to life by a great voice cast, and is filled with engaging, well written stories. This is one not to miss, especially for fans of this type of game.
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